MAMI WATA: ARTS FOR WATER SPIRITS IN AFRICA AND ITS DIASPORAS

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By Henry John Drewal
With contributions by Marilyn Houlberg, Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Amy L. Noell, John W. Nunley, and Jill Salmons

This book traces the visual cultures and histories of Mami Wata and other African water divinities. Mami Wata, often portrayed with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish, is at once beautiful, jealous, generous, seductive, and potentially deadly. A water spirit widely known across Africa and the African diaspora, her origins are said to lie “overseas,” although she has been thoroughly incorporated into local beliefs and practics. She can bring good fortune in the form of money, and her power increased between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, the era of growing international trade between Africa and the rest of the world. Her name, which may be translated as “Mother Water” or “Mistress Water,” is pidgin English, a language developed to lubricate trade. Africans forcibly carried across the Atlantic as part of that “trade” brought with them their beliefs and practices honoring Mami Wata and other ancestral deities.

Henry John Drewal is the Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Other contributors include Marilyn Houlberg, Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Amy L. Noell, John W. Nunley, and Jill Salmons.

228 pages, 8 x 10 inches
ISBN 0-9748729-9-7, ISBN 978-0-9748729-9-5, paper, $25.00

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